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Sunday February 25th, 2024

Sacked Sri Lanka scientist says organic push needs evidence-based path

FARMING: A paddy farmer preparing a field on May 10 amid a curfews. Agriculture is expected to be almost normal.

ECONOMYNEXT – A top Sri Lanka agricultural scientist who was sacked for publicly raising concerns over a sudden agro-chemical ban said a change of course is needed to avoid a worsening crisis in agriculture which could undermine food security.

Professor Buddhi Marambe, 59, the top advisor on agriculture, was sacked from all his government positions after his criticism of the ban, the Agricultural ministry said in a statement on Tuesday (26).

“We have spoken based on science. Without going for evidence-based decisions, nothing will go right,” Marambe, who is also a senior professor at the agricultural faculty of the University of Peradeniya, told Economy Next on Wednesday.

“Their push is on the correct path. But modality they have planned could lead to a situation where you can’t think of a recovery,” he said, referring to the government’s overnight ban on chemical fertilizers.

He headed the advisory committee to formulate the national agricultural policy, which has been already submitted to the government.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in April banned all the chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and weedicides when the entire country was not ready to adapt only organic agriculture.

The administration has said chemicals were triggering non-communicable disease including kidney disease and the move would to save around 200 million dollars spent on imports.

The head of Sri Lanka’s Government Medical Association, an influential group in policy in recent years, has said that according to Pliny the Elder, a Roman author, ancient Sri Lankans lived for 140 years, when there were no agro-chemicals.

However, as farmers protests grew and scientists warned of a looming disaster, the government has relaxed a part of the fertilizer ban.

Some rural farmers have already decided not to cultivate Sri Lanka staple rice in the ongoing ‘Maha’ cultivation season because of the government failure to provide necessary fertilizers.

Marambe, a former Dean of Agriculture Faculty at University of Peradeniya had been warning in recent newspaper articles that an overnight shift to organic fertiliser could lead to crop declines that in turn cause huge food shortages within months.

He cautioned that a crop failure would force the government to import food at a time when money printing has created a forex shortage.

In an article titled “A tragedy of relying on misinformation”, he said Sri Lanka is likely to import a major portion of basic food needs, such as rice, adding to external woes and reducing domestic generation of value.

“If I don’t speak out, I will also be responsible for the decline in agriculture in the future,” Marambe said

“They need to correct the course immediately. Do not forget, food security is national security. We should never tolerate any action that negatively affects our food security.”

Sri Lanka in 2005 started subsidizing fertilizer as a vote-buying gimmick promoting over-use and blocking farmers from moving on to modern more efficient nutrient application and the use of micro-nutrients.

Agriculture officials have pointed out that fertilizer themselves are not poisonous but quality has to be controlled to make sure there are no contaminants and pesticide use is globally governed by standards on residues which are revised based on available evidence.

Sri Lanka has seen a gradual decline in evidenced based policy making, where, green papers, white papers, expert consultation and public consultation had been replaced by ‘policy-by-manifesto’ and special interests which are enforced by midnight gazette, critics have said. (COLOMBO, October 27, 2021)

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Sri Lanka could get US$500mn from ADB in 2024

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka could receive 500 million US dollars in support from the Asian Development Bank in 2024 based on the progress of policy reforms, Country Director of the Manila-based lender, Takafumi Kadono said.

The ADB expect to go to its Board around March or April with a 100 million US dollar power sector loan subject to the cabinet of ministers of approving a revised electricity reform bill.

A 100 million dollar loan to support SMEs could also be approved in the early part of the year. Sri Lanka is setting up a credit guarantee agency to support credit for small firms.

A 200 million dollar credit for financial sector was also slated for the year. The ADB gave the first tranche of the financial sector policy loan late last year.

A $100mn for the water sector could also be approved later in the year.

Sri Lanka could get around 200 to 300 million US dollars a year at the lowest rate, or concessional ordinary capital resources (COL) rate of 2 percent.

The balance of would come at the ordinary capital resource rate linked to SOFR.

The ADB has also started work on a ‘Country Partnership Strategy’ for Sri Lanka covering the 2024-2028 period, Kadodo said. (Colombo/Feb25/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s multi-aligned foreign policy based on friendship: Min

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s multi-aligned foreign policy is based on friendship to all and enmity to none, its Minister of Foreign Affairs has said.

“Non-alignment means not becoming a bystander. Non-alignment means you are not forced or coerced into a camp to take sovereign decisions… you make your own choices. Whether it is commercial, security, regional or otherwise,” M U M Ali Sabry said on X (twitter).

“I have repeatedly stressed that sovereignty is the right to have your own opinion on what’s right and wrong, and to stand by your principles. Our multi-aligned foreign policy is based on friendship to all and enmity to none,” Sabry was quoting from his speech at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI) Foreign Policy Forum, on the theme ‘Reassessing Non-Alignment in a Polarised World’.

Sri Lanka is one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The strategically located island has been increasingly walking a fine line between opposing global factions as it seeks to come out of a financial crisis. (Colombo/Feb24/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s Commercial Bank Dec net down on tax provisions

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Commercial Bank of Ceylon reported profits of 6.9 billion rupees from the December 2023 quarter down 21 percent, despite an improvement in net interest income and lower provisions, amid a change in tax provisions.

Pre-tax profits were 8.89 billion rupees up from 2.4 billion rupees. There was a 6.4 billion tax reversal last year compared to a 1.7 billion rupee tax charge this year.

Commercial Bank reported earnings of 5.26 rupees for the quarter. For the year to December 2023 earnings were 16.07 rupees per share on total profits of 21.1 billion rupees, down 11.3 percent.

Net fee and commission income was down 1.2 percent to 6.1 billion rupees.

Net interest income went up 16.8 percent to 25.5 billion rupees, with interest income rising marginally by 1.3 percent to 73.0 billion rupees and interest expense falling 5.45 percent to 47.5 billion rupees.

Loans and advances to customers grew 4.06 percent to 1.17 billion rupees in the year to December. Debt and other financial instruments fell 10.5 percent to 649 billion rupees.

Financial assets measured and fair value through other comprehensive income was at 287 billion rupees, up from 117 billion rupees.

Impairment charges were 13.1 billion rupees, down from 19.6 billion rupees last year.

Gross assets were up 6.45 percent to 2.36 billion rupees. Net assets were up 5.51 percent to 214 billion rupees. (Colombo/Feb24/2024)

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